In his opening remarks, Castro had his moments.
"Much more can be done if the U.S. blockade could be lifted," Castro said through a translator. "We recognize the position of President Obama and his administration against the blockade, and his repeated appeals to Congress to have it removed. The most recent measures adopted by his administration are positive, but insufficient."
Castro complained that the blockade contains "discouraging elements and intimidating effects, and extraterritorial outreach."
He was referring to the land currently occupied by Guantanamo Naval base, saying it would be "necessary to return" that territory to Cuba.
The question of human rights is the other huge issue that stands between the U.S. and Cuba. Again, Castro did not back down.
"There are profound differences between our country that will not go away," Castro said, who outlined them as the political systems, democracy, the exercise of human rights, social justice, international relations, world peace, and stability.
"We defend rights," Castro said, and threw it back at the U.S. "In our view, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, interdependent and universal. Actually, we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and insure the right to health care, education, social security, food provision, and development, equal pay and the rights of children. We oppose political manipulation and double standards in the approach to human rights."
But then Castro borrowed from old Cold War speak to say, "We should learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner," and to "focus on the things that bring us closer than those that pull us apart."
When it was time for Obama to speak, he was gracious, and acknowledged "We have a half-century of work to catch up on," and how the relationship "will not be transformed overnight.
That's for sure, but knowing the history goes back more than 160 years, this will be a much slower dance in Cuba than anyone thought.
More fireworks came in the Q&A, when CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked a general question about the release of Cuban political prisoners.
"Give me a list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately," Mr. Castro shot back. "Give me name or names and if we have them, they will be released before tonight ends."
President Obama brought the conversation back to what opening relations with Cuba is all about: commerce.
He said opening up dialogue to build new Cuban-U.S. constituencies could push Congress to end the embargo. He mentioned the opening up of joint entrepreneurial ventures on the internet, or in agriculture.
But it always comes down to human rights.
Of course, this hasn't stopped imports from big human rights violators in Asia--namely, China.
China, the big communist/capitalist contradiction, part-friend, part-owner of U.S paper, part enemy, was the elephant not in the room. And then Obama mentioned it.
"Keep in mind, I've got fierce disagreements about the Chinese on human rights," Obama said. Oh, but so di others back to Bush One. Remember the phrase, "Butchers of Beijing"? Again, history.
"I'll be going to Vietnam later this year," Obama continued. "I have deep disagreements with them as well. When we first visited Burma, people questioned if we should be traveling there because of longstanding human rights violations in our view. The approach that I have taken has been if I engage frankly, clearly, stating what our beliefs are, but also being clear we can't force change on any particular country, ultimately, it has to come from within. That is going to be a more useful strategy than the same kind of rigid disengagement that for fifty years did nothing.
"I have faith in people," Obama said optimistically. "If you meet Cubans here, and Cubans meet Americans and they're meeting and talking and interacting and doing business together, and going to school together, and learning from each other, then they'll recognize that people are people, and in that context, I believe that change will occur."
It may not happen during his tenure as our 44th president. But it's a far cry from the sentiments of our 14th, Franklin Pierce, who just wanted to buy Cuba outright.
That was wrong. And this is now.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.